A bridge to employment for young people with learning disabilities
Although educational opportunities are opening up for more young people with learning disabilities, finding a way into full time employment still presents a challenge. A new bakery in the UK is showing how the bridge can be built. Jane Chong, the co-founder of Step and Stone reports.
Step and Stone is a social enterprise based in Bristol; it’s a bakery with a specific social purpose, to help train young people with learning disabilities with a view to finding them employment. It was set up by two parents of young people who have a learning disability.
Educational provision for children and young people with learning disabilities is so much better now than it was in the past, with many opportunities for good outcomes in both mainstream and special schools and colleges. More and more young people are leaving education with good skills and the ability to thrive in the workplace, given adequate planning and preparation. However it is extremely difficult for someone with a learning disability to get employment, with only 6% of adults with a learning disability in paid work, according to Mencap, despite more than 60% expressing a wish to work.
Jane Kippax and I both have a child with Down Syndrome, and we know just how capable our young people can be given the right support and training; so over a cup of coffee one morning we decided to pool our ambitions and energy and do something to help change these dire statistics for the better, and to improve opportunities in the workplace for our young people!
Jane K had lived in Melbourne for 10 years before coming back to live in Somerset, and while in Australia she discovered a wonderful slim crispy savoury cracker, lavosh, which we decided would be a perfect vehicle for Step and Stone. An important part of our work is to raise perceptions of the abilities of our young bakers amongst the general public, and specifically amongst potential employers, so we aim to produce a top notch product, using local ingredients, including Shipton Mill organic untreated flour, and Fussells extra virgin cold-pressed rapeseed oil. We produce award-winning products which we position to compete with other quality products in lovely delis, fine food shops, artisan markets and food festivals. Each beautiful packet of lavosh is an important communication tool for us to demonstrate just what good work our young people can do!
Individually tailored support
We provide a unique bespoke person-centered approach for each of our trainee bakers, with a focus on acquiring skills which will equip them for the work place. As well as teaching specific baking skills, we teach all those things which are essential for success in a job, like team work, taking instructions, building independence and initiative, even coming back from lunch on time, and not taking too long to reappear after a coffee break! Our Training and Support Manager, Neale Fox, has a strong background in special education, having previously run the Horizons programme for young people with additional needs at The City of Bristol College. He has driven the development of an invaluable robust tool which measures objectives and progression for each of our bakers across a broad range of skills, building up an excellent picture of an individual’s skillset, and which also serves as a really useful addition to the young person’s cv when they leave us.
Our bakers have a range of learning disabilities, some individuals requiring a higher level of support than others. As long as the young person wishes to come and work at Step and Stone we are happy to work with them. We have seen some remarkable progress in our trainees, with 2 of our bakers now thriving in paid employment, one at Greggs Bakery and another at the Environment Agency. Four more are at interview stage with various organizations. When we judge a trainee is ready for employment, we work with them to decide what sort of job they would like, work on their cv, identify potential employers and support the trainee and employer through the whole process. We have developed an excellent working relationship with the Down Syndrome Association’s Workfit arm, which does very good work placing young people with Downs Syndrome in employment.
Of course, purposeful work is essential for everyone’s sense of well-being, but we also realized that many of our young people can become socially isolated when they leave education, and lack many of the opportunities to socialize and meet friends that their typically developing peers benefit from. To target this issue, and to further build confidence and self-esteem, we have regular social outings which are hugely popular: we’ve played crazy golf, visited a climbing gym, been bowling(several times!), had fun with an improvisation team and will be going to the cinema soon: food is always involved, and pizza more often than not!
We are so delighted that genuine friendships are appearing amongst our trainees, with people arranging to meet up socially outside of work.
Friendship at the bakery
We still have lots of work to do at Step and Stone, both in expanding the bakery so that we can offer opportunities to more young people, in seeking FE accreditation, and also towards our medium term goal of opening a café, which would enable us to teach a greater breadth of skills. We would also like to encourage others to set up similar ventures and are exploring the area of social franchising….so watch this space!
Jane Chong is Executive Director
Step and Stone